Size matters – at least when it comes to the size of our protests. Though final count is still being tabulated, researchers Erica Chenoweth and Jeremy Pressman of the Crowd Counting Consortium estimate that over 1.25 million people across the United States participated in Saturday’s March for Our Lives protest, making it one of the largest youth-led protests in American history, at least since the Vietnam War.
Beyond youth-led protests, March for Our Lives is also poised to become one of the biggest protests, period, in American history, surpassed only by the Women’s March in 2017, where an estimated 4.15 million people participated, and the Women’s March in 2018, where anywhere from 1.6 to 2.5 million people participated domestically.
These numbers aren’t an accident. A combustible array of variables, including the rise in authoritarianism and anti-authoritarianism worldwide and technology that makes it easier to organize sibling marches, have contributed to historic turnouts.
The counts are already huge. Now get ready for them to explode.It’s important to emphasize that measuring protest size is an imprecise art. Estimates of Saturday’s Washington D.C. protest have ranged anywhere from 202,000 from Digital Design and Imaging Service, which uses drones to collect aerial data, to over 800,000 from organizers themselves, who collect RSVPs and data about public transportation usage. While the public tends to distrust data that comes from organizers, Chenoweth cautions that organizers are often more transparent about their data collection methods.
“I actually think the conservative estimate here is really quite conservative,” Chenoweth says. “The drones are doing snapshots at given moments in time, but they’re limited by their bird’s-eye view of buildings, or different obstructions, especially when people are moving.”
To arrive at their estimate (which is still being updated), Pressman and Chenoweth take a 10 percent deduction of the highest estimated count, provide a 10 percent boost to the lowest estimate, and then average the two. Using this method, their best guess for Saturday’s turnout in DC hovers around 471,000.
Even with such a wide range, these estimates are jaw-dropping – and reflect our current political moment. Of the top five largest protests in American history, four have taken place in the last two years – the two Women’s Marches, the March for Our Lives, and the March for Science, estimated to have a turnout of around 1 million. Anti-Vietnam War protests were more numerous and over a much longer period of time, with the largest one on record attracting over 500,000 people.
According to Chenoweth and Pressman, there were 521 March for Our Lives events nationally though just 27 internationally, significantly less than the Women’s March, who had 261 international marches their first year. To be fair, the United States has some of the least restrictive gun control in the Western world – see here for a depressing comparison.
Turnouts have been so historic partially because of the depth of anti-Trump despair. Trump’s popularity rating after his first year in office was the lowest for any president in modern American history. The legislative branch that is supposed to provide a check and balance to his power has only amplified it. At Crowd Counting, Chenoweth and Pressman group recent protests into three categories, pro-Trump, anti-Trump, and neither. Chenoweth estimates that the “overwhelming majority of protests in this country, 80 percent, have been anti-Trump.”
There is probably no better organizer in this country than Donald Trump, even if it’s just organizing people against him.Trump can’t take all the credit. Other factors contributed to the exponential growth in protest size, including an increasing reliance on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media tools that make mass organizing both desirable and easily replicable.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘The Largest Protests In American History Are
Happening Now. Expect Them To Get Bigger’.